By Kerr, Paul
Arms Control Today , Vol. 36, No. 8
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released two reports Sept. 8 as part of the second phase of its inquiry into pre-war U.S. intelligence concerning Iraq's suspected chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs.
One report compares pre-war U.S. intelligence assessments with information gathered following the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The other report evaluates the intelligence community's use of information obtained from individuals associated with the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a group comprised of Iraqi exiles who opposed Saddam Hussein's regime.
The first report reaches similar conclusions to those of a previous official U.S. government postinvasion investigation conducted by the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led search for Iraqi prohibited weapons. The ISG had already debunked Bush administration officials' prewar claims that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and had an active nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, December 2005.)
The intelligence community continues to review documents seized in Iraq. But a 2006 CIA retrospective, newly revealed in the intelligence committee report, states that such efforts are unlikely to yield new evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. Noting that there "comes a point where the absence of evidence does indeed become the evidence of absence," the CIA report adds that investigators "should have found at least some incidental reporting or references" if Baghdad had conducted "concealment and deception operations. . .to the scale necessary."
In July 2004, the intelligence panel completed the investigation's first phase, comparing the intelligence community's pre-war assessments with the supporting pre-invasion intelligence. (See ACT, September 2004.) The second phase of the investigation is supposed to include an examination of Bush administration officials' acquisition and use of intelligence, but it has been mired in partisan controversy. It began in June 2003 but has yet to be completed, despite repeated pledges from committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). (See ACT, April 2006.)
The Sept. 8 committee reports focus on the intelligence community. The panel did not release three other reports examining other executive branch offices. While the committee maintains it will issue the additional reports, no date has yet been set for this. One of the reports would compare U.S. officials' public statements regarding Iraq's WMD and terrorist-related activities with the available intelligence. The others will evaluate U.S. preinvasion intelligence about the likely postwar conditions in Iraq and "intelligence activities" conducted by officials from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.
The Sept. 8 committee reports concentrate mainly on an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which judged that Baghdad possessed chemical and biological weapons and was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. An NIE is supposed to be the Intelligence community's most authoritative assessment of a given subject. (See ACT, September 2004.)
Iraqi Weapons Predictions vs. Results
Largely recapitulating information contained in previous reports, the report comparing intelligence before and after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq reiterates that, during the 1990s, Iraq had destroyed its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs.
The CIA retrospective described in the report concluded that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein chose to withhold information about Baghdad's illicit weapons programs from UN inspectors who began work in the country after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But in a reaction to "unexpectedly thorough inspections," Iraq later destroyed large amounts of "undeclared weapons and related materials" without the presence of the inspectors. …